Indians in View: The Representation of Indians in Magic Lantern Lectures, Non-Fiction Films and on Postcards, 1870-1915


Rianne Siebenga

PhD defended at: 

Utrecht University, the Netherlands



This thesis argues that a study of popular media gives us more and also new insights into how the colonialist ideology was expressed and produced, but also contested and refigured. In studying representations of Indians in magic lantern presentations, non-fiction films and on postcards, the thesis opens up an almost entirely new area of visual materials. It focuses on productions made with a non-Indian public in mind and assesses how and to what extent colonial ideas are expressed through these media. At the same time the thesis compares the different media in order to highlight differences and similarities. It finds that most images confirm to well-established colonial tropes such as festivals, Anglo-Indian servants and dancing girls. Nevertheless the way in which these are portrayed and described are not only grounded in the colonial ideology, but in a variety of traditions such as British theatre and Indian music and dance.
The medium plays a decisive role as early film’s focus on attraction gears films towards spectacle rather than colonial judgement. Postcards were a medium which Indians used to reconfigure colonial ideas, while magic lantern presentations held on to a strong defense of colonial superiority. The thesis concludes that these media give us vital clues about what images of India reached the general population and thus helped create specific understandings of India and the Indians.